Nurses reveal the 7 questions you should never be afraid to ask your doctor

  • Nurses revealed seven questions to always ask your doctor during a visit.
  • They suggest patients advocate for themselves, as diagnostic errors (or mistakes doctors can make with treatment plans) affect 1 in 20 adults each year.
  • Nurses also say if they suggest getting a second opinion, it can sometimes mean they personally don’t trust the doctor and would encourage you get more information.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Nurses spend all day with doctors, so they know a thing or two about how to deal with them.

Nurses previously revealed to Business Insider facts about hospitals and patients that many people don’t know. Now, they have advice on what to ask your doctor during a visit.

One of the most important things patients can do is advocate for themselves during treatment, nurses say. Diagnostic errors (or mistakes doctors can make with treatment plans) affect 1 in 20 adults each year, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ.

Here are some questions nurses suggest you ask your doctor.

(Some nurses quoted spoke to Business Insider under the condition of anonymity. Business Insider confirmed their identities before publishing this piece.)

If you’re a nurse with a story to tell, email [email protected]



Nat, a registered nurse in Massachusetts, said to always ask your doctor “everything and anything,” particularly to clearly explain why he or she is taking a course of action.

Laura Landro, a longtime Wall Street Journal columnist who authored “Informed Patient,” said patients can improve their health outcomes with self advocacy. In fact, diagnostic errors affect 1 in 20 adults each year, she writes.

“If there is something you’re requesting, advocate for yourself and explain why,” Nat told Business Insider.

“Are there alternatives to treating my problem?”


Anne, a registered nurse in North Carolina, said to ask doctors whether there are alternative treatment plans to consider.

Journal columnist Landro said half of adults with high blood pressure aren’t on the correct treatment to bring it under control, and half of Americans get prescribed antibiotics for viral – not bacterial – infections.

Educating yourself on each treatment plan available can prevent unwanted side effects, Landro said.

“Could I get my records for a second opinion?”


Nurses won’t openly say anything negative about your doctor, but if they recommend you get a second opinion, “that means I personally wouldn’t let that doctor touch me,” David, an operating-room nurse in Arizona, told Business Insider.

Bad doctors are more common than patients might think. Outdated, incomplete federal databases allowed at least 500 physicians who have been barred from practicing medicine in one state continue to work in other ones, according to a 2018 investigation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Author and physician Jerome Groopman wrote to WebMD that you should tell your current doctor you want a second opinion so that he or she can hand over your lab tests and medical records.

“Can I get your undivided attention for a moment?”


“Now that medical records are computerised, a lot of nurses or doctors read the screen while you’re trying to talk to them,” Kristin Baird, a registered nurse, told Business Insider. “If you feel like you’re not being heard, say, ‘I need your undivided attention for a moment.'”

About 80.5% of hospitals use electronic health record systems, or EHRs, as of 2017, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. The use of these electronic systems rose after Barack Obama signed a law in 2009 to accelerate the digitization of medical records.

Yet electronic health records have caused a host of problems. Time spent using EHRs is correlated with physician burnout, according to a survey of 1,792 practicing physicians published in JAMIA, and a recent investigation found EHR-caused software glitches and user errors led to death and serious injury to patients.

“Is this a teaching hospital?”


While you may want to find this out before getting admitted, many nurses told Business Insider that patient care differs depending on the type of hospital you’re at.

Teaching hospitals, for instance, are more up-to-date on leading research, according to Susan, a nurse from Ohio. A 2017 report found mortality rates are lower at teaching hospitals.

Similarly, nonprofit and for-profit hospitals can offer different patient care.

For-profit hospitals tend to look at financial incentives when determining patient care. Sometimes, care in psychiatric emergencies isn’t offered because it doesn’t bring in enough money, according to an analysis by Jill R. Horwitz, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.

“Can I have some control over my treatment plan?”


Patients in the hospital for an extended period of time can get aggravated, writes Elizabeth Binsfield, a registered nurse in Virginia. Patients can feel helpless in the face of longterm illnesses, sometimes due to the fact they can no longer bathe or eat without a nurse present.

If you’re in the hospital, ask your doctor if there are any tasks you can perform yourself to get autonomy back, Binsfield said.

“Restoring some of [a patient’s] autonomy can go a long way to returning a sense of control,” Binsfield wrote to the popular blog Minority Nurse.

“Should I make a follow-up appointment?”


Find out whether or not you need to follow up, and then make sure you go to your follow-up appointment, says a nurse on Reddit that goes by the name alex_subo.

“So many conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) can pose such huge health implications without you ever feeling a thing,” the nurse wrote. “If your health care provider says follow up, follow up.”

Barron H. Lerner, a physician, wrote in the New York Times about how he scheduled a follow-up appointment with a hypertension patient who never came for a follow-up appointment. Her condition was potentially dangerous and not showing up put her at risk for a stroke.

“Even when a clinic staff member calls patients in advance, my no-show rate still hovers from 10 to 20 per cent,” Lerner wrote. “Some of my patients have received delayed care because of missed visits, although thankfully there have been no serious outcomes (that I know of). But the chance is always there.”